Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34)

This tale of the violent end of a young Depression-era 'shine-running gangster seems to come right out of a Warner Bros. movie of the 1930's. Bernie adopts exactly the right balance of objective and judgmental in lyrics like these:

Killed him in anger, a force he couldn't handle
Helped pull the trigger that cut short his life
And there's not many knew him the way that we did
Sure enough he was a wild one, but then aren't most hungry kids?


Also, establishing that young Danny was from Kentucky (13-year-old me though that was pretty cool) and the later mention of breaking up moonshine stills gives this a Bonnie and Clyde (and much later O Brother, Where Art Thou?) connotation as well. The final line of the chorus, "And the harvest is in", is brilliant in the images it evokes.

Elton's arrangement is no less clever: From the ominous, rumbling opening piano notes, suddenly punctuated by a snare drum shot after the lines "Some punk with a shotgun/killed young Danny Bailey"- POW!- "in cold blood..."...on through the stop-and-start of the rhythm of the body of the song (nice job by Dee Murray on bass, who stands out a bit in the mix)- finishing up with an extended piano solo on the fadeout, ushered in by more of those stellar group harmonies, as Elton plays clumps of notes against the rhythm and the soaring Newman strings until the end.

I'm not sure that Elton, Bernie and string arranger Del Newman ever were more in sync than on this overlooked gem from side three of GYBR.

9 comments:

Rob S. said...

This was always one of my favorite tracks from this album. My one lyrical gripe: "a lifestyle he lived by." Come on, Bernie, you were doing so well up til then...

Johnny B said...

Yeah, that is a tad redundant, isn't it...

thom de plume said...

Granted, 'a lifestyle he lived by' is syntactically redundant, but it's also quintessential Taupin in that it 'sounds' good no matter what it might mean on the surface.

The first time I noticed this peculiar quality in his writing was on 'Rocket Man,' which features the line, ' I think it's gonna be a long, long time till touchdown brings me round again to find.'

I'm not sure what it means exactly, but the sound of the syllables makes it worth the price of admission.

Kudos, Bernie!

Disciples of Poker said...

Danny Bailey is one of my favorites on an extraordinary album ! Nice review

andrea said...

i never realized that Rob S has a good point.

i think "a lifestyle he lived by" could be easily fixed. swore by, died by etc.

anyway i was wondering- is Danny Bailey real, and if so how does Taupin know about him? i found this blog in a search for him.

Johnny B said...

Andrea, as far as I know, this Danny Bailey was fictional, probably Bernie being inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. I'm sure that there were Kentucky boys named Danny Bailey in the 30's, but whether or not they were gangsters I don't know...

Rob Adams said...

A little late to reply but...
You shouldn't take the line on its own, followed by ' I'm not the man they think I am at heart', it sounds as if the man questions who or what he is!

David Jones said...

I don't see that line in the song, Rob, so I'm not sure what you mean by that.

Jim Akin said...

Rob seems to be addressing thom de plume's comment about Rocket Man, and the incomplete line thom cites as an example of a meaningless Bernie lyric that sounds cool:

"...I think it's going to be a long long time til touchdown brings me 'round again to find."

Rob's quotation is a little off, but I agree with him that thom has put a period in the line before the end of the sentence. Completing the thought makes sense grammatically and thematically:

"...I think it's going to be a long long time til touchdown brings me 'round again to find I'm not the man they think I am at home."

Great post.